Lind­say Judge meets the women in Dibba who’ve come to­gether to share their knowl­edge of talli, a form of em­broi­dery passed from mother to daugh­ter – pre­serv­ing his­tory and lead­ing to a best­selling col­lab­o­ra­tion with Bri­tish luxe brand Asprey


A group of women in Dibba weave magic on global run­ways with their ex­quis­ite tal­lis. Fri­day meets them.

While many of us are run­ning round the malls try­ing to get the lat­est Zara shoes or sav­ing our dirhams for the new­est Prada hand­bag, there is a small com­mu­nity of women in the UAE that are hav­ing in­ter­na­tional suc­cess at keep­ing tra­di­tional Emi­rati em­broi­dery crafts alive.

The Bidwa So­cial De­vel­op­ment Pro­gramme Cen­tre be­gan by ac­ci­dent in 2016. Her High­ness Shaikha Jawa­her Bint Mo­hammed Al Qas­simi, wife of His High­ness Dr Shaikh Sul­tan Bin Mo­ham­mad Al Qasimi, the Ruler of Shar­jah, was at Shar­jah Women’s Club and no­ticed one of the women was car­ry­ing a stun­ning em­broi­dered bag. When asked where she got the bag, it turned out that the woman had made it her­self, and cus­tomised it with a hand­wo­ven braid called a talli. At the time, Shaikha Jawa­her knew noth­ing of this tech­nique, but was so im­pressed with the bag that she had to find out more.

After speak­ing to some of the ladies, Shaikha Jawa­her dis­cov­ered that a talli is some­thing the older Emi­rati gen­er­a­tions have been mak­ing in their homes in or­der to cus­tomise their clothes for years. It was from here, with the help of the Irthi Con­tem­po­rary Crafts Coun­cil, that the pro­gramme be­gan. That one lady with the bag had many friends do­ing the same thing – and by word of mouth there are now 37 women, many of them re­tired or el­derly, work­ing at the cen­tre, cre­at­ing up to 45 types of talli.

Aside from talli, the cen­tre also has women pro­duc­ing safeefah, a form of weav­ing with dried palm leaves, and sadu, a form of loom weav­ing.

The coun­cil’s vi­sion was to bring these crafts to a larger au­di­ence, and it seems to be work­ing. Since open­ing in 2016, the cen­tre, which is lo­cated in Dibba, on the UAE’s east coast, has part­nered with Bri­tish brand Asprey to cre­ate a limited-edi­tion range of bags. The col­lec­tion was quite suit­ably named One Stitch at a Time. The cen­tre has also cre­ated talli de­signs for Emi­rati-in­spired cat­walk looks for the Ac­cademia Ital­iana at the pres­ti­gious Alta Roma fash­ion week, Rome’s ver­sion of haute cou­ture.

‘Through vo­ca­tional train­ing and skills de­vel­op­ment, the pro­gramme con­stantly works to de­velop the crafts within a fresh nar­ra­tive,’ says Reem Bin Karam, firec­tor of NAMA Women Ad­vance­ment Es­tab­lish­ment. NAMA is a non-profit that de­vel­oped Irthi. ‘The pro­gramme en­sures the preser­va­tion of the crafts and al­lows us to in­cor­po­rate them into con­tem­po­rary de­sign el­e­ments, en­abling ac­cess to new mar­ket op­por­tu­ni­ties on the re­gional and in­ter­na­tional stage. Through a series of in­ter­na­tional show­cases and suc­cess­ful col­lab­o­ra­tions in past years, we

were proud to share the rich cul­tural her­itage of the UAE to a larger global au­di­ence.’

As the cen­tre con­tin­ues to grow, there are big plans for these women, with fu­ture col­lab­o­ra­tions al­ready in the works. The tal­lis they are mak­ing re­ally are in­cred­i­ble. The tech­nique looks very com­pli­cated; the fin­ished prod­uct is a flaw­less de­sign, so it’s no won­der they have been picked up in­ter­na­tion­ally.

‘The Asprey team came to the cen­tre and spent three days here see­ing what the ladies do,’ says Sha­reefa Hasan Al Dhuhoori, man­ager of the Bidwa Cen­tre. ‘They chose the colours and styles of talli they wanted and the ladies made it. They worked 20 hours [a day] to com­plete the work.’ The com­pleted tal­lis were sent to Lon­don to be fixed to a limited-edi­tion col­lec­tion of hand­bags, sold for Dh25,000 to Dh157,000 – and all of the bags were sold. ‘We will be do­ing it again in 2018,’ Sha­reefa says; ‘we will have a dif­fer­ent type of talli to make the peo­ple say “wow” again. We re­search new types of talli all the time. Many of the women watch videos on YouTube at night to learn how to make new types of talli.’

But why have we never heard about it? ‘Many mod­ern peo­ple in the UAE do not care for these kinds of crafts,’ says Sha­reefa. ‘They want to go to the mall and get the lat­est hand­bag or de­signer item. For this rea­son we are tar­get­ing the Euro­pean mar­ket. To them, this is some­thing dif­fer­ent and ex­otic. We would, how­ever, love to sell tal­lis to brands in the UAE – we just need to find the right part­ner­ship.’

While you can­not buy the tal­lis them­selves di­rectly from the cen­tre, the women sell their crafts at mar­kets through­out the year, Sha­reefa ex­plains. ‘We have the ladies at events show­ing what they are do­ing. We reg­u­larly go to mar­kets and events in Shar­jah to show­case the tal­lis. The feed­back is amaz­ing – every­one is ask­ing about them, what they are and how the ladies are do­ing it.’

So how has this par­tic­u­lar cen­tre been so suc­cess­ful? Of course there is the back­ing and fund­ing of the Irthi Coun­cil, but as Fri­day saw first­hand when we vis­ited one day dur­ing Ra­madan, the work ethic of these women is in­cred­i­ble.

‘Many MOD­ERN peo­ple in the UAE do not care for these kinds of crafts. They’d rather go to a mall and shop for the LAT­EST hand­bag or de­signer item. For this rea­son we are tar­get­ing the Euro­pean mar­ket’

Many of them have been cre­at­ing these crafts in their homes for decades, but bring­ing them to a work en­vi­ron­ment is dif­fer­ent. ‘When the ladies come [to the cen­tre] we give them two weeks of train­ing so we can find out what they can do and which level we should put them in,’ says Sha­reefa. ‘If all goes well and both par­ties are happy, we make a con­tract with the lady. The ladies work for three hours a day and most of them have fam­i­lies to look after back home, but will some­times con­tinue their work at home as well. For a ba­sic talli, it takes three hours per me­tre. The more com­pli­cated the talli, the longer it takes.’

Many of the women are re­tired or with­out a job, so the cen­tre helps to give them a pur­pose. ‘We made the cen­tre not just to cre­ate the de­signs, but also to em­power the ladies. Many of these ladies are re­tired and some are even grand­moth­ers. They are not work­ing and in many cases feel like they need a pur­pose or some­thing to get them out of the house, so we are giv­ing her

For 25 years Moza Saif Al Muhairi had been mak­ing one type of talli. Now she’s learnt 10 other styles

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